Archive for Volleyball Coaching Resources

What’s the greatest coaching book ever?

What’s the greatest coaching book ever?

Mark Lebedew flat out says it’s Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops. I won’t disagree that it’s a good book. I personally would not call it the best ever. Sorry Mark.

There’s no debating Jackson’s success. I’m going to ask the following question, though. How many rings would Phil have without having had the best players of their respective periods on his teams? This speaks to the degree of impact a coach really has in determining a team’s success, which Mark separately talked about.

Putting the question of Jackson’s coaching greatness aside, though, what generally ends up being the prime factor in someone’s choice of “best” tends to be its impact on that person individually. For me, Sacred Hoops didn’t have much impact. Were there some interesting bits? Sure. I’m relatively well-read in at least part of Jackson’s underlying (Zen Master) philosophy, so from that perspective there wasn’t very much new or novel. For others, though, there could be.

In terms of books with the biggest influence on me as a coach I would have to say They Call Me Coach by John Wooden – with Training Soccer Champions by Anson Dorrance another one I can remember having an impact on me. I’m certainly not the only coach to have Wooden as an influence. His name always comes up when talking about on the subject.

What I realize, though, is that I read that book at a very pivotal point in my early coaching development. As such, it had considerable influence on me. There are definite parts of my coaching philosophy which match Coach Wooden’s, though at this point I don’t know what came from reading his book and what I either already had or developed myself along the way.

My point is that if I read that book now it would probably be far less influential. That’s just the nature of things. As you absorb more knowledge, any new material only provides incremental gains. As such, it’s hard to feel like you’ve read the greatest ever once you’ve been around the block a few times.

So what about you? What’s the best coaching book you’ve ever read?

New Volleyball Coaching Podcast Up and Running!

I’ve mentioned before (here and here) my intention to eventually get a volleyball coaching podcast going. It’s finally a reality!

The Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast went live on Monday. The first episode, which is dubbed Episode 0, is simply an introduction from myself and my co-host, Mark Lebedew from At Home on the Court. We share our own coaching histories, what motivated each of us to develop the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, and some thoughts on interesting things that have come out of the interviews done so far.

Starting next week, the podcast win running on a weekly basis with regular episodes. They will each run about 30 minutes. The subject matter will mainly come from the Wizards interviews, though we’ll also mix in some interesting coaching and volleyball stuff we come across or hear about more broadly as well.

I know we’re not the first or only volleyball podcast out there. The Net Live is one both Mark and I listen to regularly. That one is very US-focused and covers a lot of ground between beach and indoor, college and international play. There’s a Canadian volleyball podcast with a similar concept at the Volleyball Source. There are even a couple of volleyball coaching podcasts that have started up in the last year or so. Technical Timeout is run by a former Canadian national team player. USA Volleyball technical guy Joe Trinsey also has one.

What’s life without a little competition, though! 🙂

Sample volleyball team playing guide

After taking up coaching duties for the Exeter University Volleyball Club in 2012, I realized the need to put together a sort of playing guide. I was dealing with a lot of relatively inexperienced players. I was also working with players from an array of different countries (about 25 all together). The guide was something to give everyone the basic structure in which we’d be playing. With only a couple of training sessions each week, and not much time between the conclusion of tryouts and the start of competition to get things done, it was a way to speed up the process of developing team play.

The guide goes over a few primary areas of focus:

  • Rotation-by-rotation set up for a 5-1 system.
  • Rotation-by-rotation primary serve reception formation (with notes and observations)
  • Rotation-by-rotation secondary serve reception formation (with notes and additional ideas)
  • Additional points of emphasis for serve reception.
  • Diagrams for base defense and notes
  • Diagrams for perimeter (middle back) defense against for attacks through zones 4, 3, and 2
  • Notes and thoughts on defense implementation
  • Free ball and down ball defense

Overall the guide is 9 pages long. Depending on the your team and players, you might find it useful in helping introducing the 5-1 offense and/or the basic ideas of the perimeter defensive system. I think it’s a pretty comprehensive look at things, but because it was written for a specific situation there may be things which are more or less applicable for you and your own team/program.

If you want a copy, fill out the form below.

New podcast finally in development

A while back I talked about having an idea to develop a volleyball coaching podcast. Well, that idea is turning into a reality, though not quite in the way I’d kind of originally envisioned.

Mark Lebedew and I just finished recording three episodes of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast. They need to go through some editing and production work. They’ll be ready for consumption shortly, and I’ll get them up on iTunes for download.

The basic approach for this podcast is to take interesting elements of the interviews we’re doing and have a discussion about them. It should make for some interesting content. Each episode will be roughly 30 minutes long – a good length for a commute or a workout.

Look for more information shortly.

Volleyball Coaching Wizards now open!

Volleyball Coaching Wizards banner

I’ve mentioned Volleyball Coaching Wizards a number of times over the last couple months. If you missed it, basically it’s a project to interview the world’s great volleyball coaches – at all levels. I teamed up with Mark Lebedew of At Home on the Court (he coaches a pro team in Poland). We have a list of over 300 coaches taken from Hall of Fame lists and/or recommended to us. The work is still in the very early stages. A bunch of interviews with some really high profile and very successful coaches are already done. Numerous others are committed for the future.

We opened up access to the Wizards recordings publicly, which mean full access to each interview. They generally run 1.5 to 2 hours, and in them we talk about things like:

  • Coaching philosophy and how it’s changed
  • Team building
  • Training and season planning
  • Line-up decision and playing time
  • Managing expectations
  • Career development
  • and much more.

While Mark and I look to touch on basically the same basic coaching topics, each interview is different. They reflect the variety of coaching levels and circumstances, backgrounds and development paths, and personal philosophies and styles of each of these Wizards. The process of doing the recordings has been great, and what we’re hearing is really interesting – especially the common elements across coaches from very different experiences and backgrounds.

What’s really been awesome to hear from these coaches we’re speaking with is how great they think the project is and how it will contribute to volleyball coaching knowledge. They are as excited to listen to their peers as the rest of us!

Click here to learn more, see who we’ve already interviewed, and find out how to get access.


Using a serving machine in training

Periodically I hear a volleyball coach ponder an investment in additional equipment for their program. This is often as a result of having spare or donor funds. At other times coaches specifically fund raise for some item they think would be desirable. In cases like this, the subject of hitting/serving machines comes up. They tend to be the big price tag “it would be great to have” thing on coaching wish lists.

But is something like that really a good investment?

The bottom line is it comes down to how much you’ll end up using it. If it’s quite a bit, then it’s a good investment. Otherwise, spend the money elsewhere. The impression I get is that hitting/serving machines probably are not used as much as their buyers anticipated, especially when talking about a school team/program (clubs have more opportunity).

Related to this is the question of whether you should use one of these machines.

The rationale in favor is that they allow you to get in a lot of reps without putting a big strain on coach and/or player shoulders. Plus, they are pretty consistent, which allows for specific focus. Those are not bad reasons. They were why we got one when I was coaching at Brown University – especially for training in the Spring when it was individuals or smaller groups.

The argument against using a machine is that it removes the read element from the passing/defense process. If you’re receiving serve you’re getting a bunch of cues from the server’s position, toss, contact point, etc. Inserting a machine removes all those cues, cutting down on the receivers training per the concept of the read-plan-execute chain.

In the outside hitting and serving seminar I attended in 2014, instructor Mark Lebedew expressed the view that sometimes hitting/serving machines can be useful. He felt that was true in a situation when an individual just wants reps to work through some mechanics stuff. As soon as you have multiple players, however, he said he’s against using the machine. When players must communicate seams, etc. the lack of a read aspect is compounded, he argued.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about making an investment in a hitting/serving machine.

Book Review: Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson

Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson is a book I’ve been aware of for years. I’ve heard it recommended by coaches a number of times. My Volleyball Coaching Wizards partner, Mark Lebedew, mentioned it during his interview. He mocked me when I admitted I was only just reading the book for the first time at that point.

Obviously, you have to take seriously any book written by a coach with as much success as Jackson had in his career. Honestly, though, at least part of my reason for not reading the book sooner is that it’s focus is basketball. I’m not a huge fan of the sport. And of course being a volleyball coach I have often been in conflict with basketball. We always seem to be at odds when it comes to court time, players, resources, etc. That may have been another underlying reason for not picking up Sacred Hoops. That said, I have read stuff by/about John Wooden, but I feel like his coaching stature goes far beyond basketball at this point.

There are basically four elements to Sacred Hoops. One is Jackson’s personal road to philosophical development. I’ve read quite a bit on Zen and other philosophies, so I found his perspective in that regard interesting. Another is a discussion of how Phil developed as a coach. I think those sorts of things are worthwhile generally speaking. They can be sources of inspiration and motivation.

The third is a history of the Bulls teams up to the point of the book’s writing. That bit I could care less about, as you can imagine. Interwoven in that history, though, is the fourth element, which is how Jackson – at least in his own mind – dealt with a variety of different coaching challenges along the way. The level of athlete may be considerably different from the ones we have to work with, but many of the issues Phil brings up have parallels at all levels and in all sports.

I’m not going to say Sacred Hoops was some kind of major “Wow!” read for me. There weren’t any parts which forced me to rethink things in my own coaching in a serious fashion. Perhaps that’s at least partly because I’d already read about some of the philosophical stuff seemingly at the core of Jackson’s way of thinking, so there weren’t a lot of new ideas in that vein. Still, I thought it was a useful read from the perspective of offering up a different set of ways to look at things that could be filed away for potential future use or reference. For that reason I do recommend it for volleyball coaches. Content aside, it’s a convenient read as it comprises a lot of short sections so you can read it in short bursts as I did.

One interview down, dozens to go!

Yesterday I did the first of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. It was with my partner on the project, Mark Lebedew from At Home on the Court. We ran it as a kind of webinar to allow some others to listen in and ask questions of their own. There were a couple of technical glitches on Mark’s end, and a “family” interruption or two, but overall the interview went well and covered a lot of good ground. Once I edit the recording we’ll be making it available, and Mark has offered to do the transcription to produce a text version.

Want to know what the biggest takeaway was for me from the interview?

It was that this project is going to be A LOT of work. The interview took about 2.5 hours. It will probably take at least that much time to edit, produce and upload. Add in the time required to arrange for an interview and to do all the other little admin things around it and you’re basically talking about a full day’s effort for each one. And that’s not even counting the transcription of the audio, which after this one we will almost certainly outsource.

Now consider that we already have over 30 coaches who have agreed to be interviewed and that’s just about 10% of our prospect list. Starting to get the idea of how much work this project will involve?

By the way, those who attended the interview – which we ran as a Google+ Hangout – was very positive.

Volleyball Coaching Wizards project update

In case you haven’t been following the Volleyball Coaching Wizards blog, the Facebook page, or the Twitter feed (why not!?) there have been a number of very positive developments since I mentioned the project two weeks ago. I think we’re now up to somewhere around 300 top notch coaches on our list of nominees. Many of them are there on the basis of being in the AVCA Hall of Fame and/or on on the lists of the winningest coaches in US collegiate and high school volleyball. The remainder, though, have come by way of recommendations from coaches all over the world.

And they continue to come in! As far as I’m concerned, we’ve only just scratch the surface in many ways – especially outside the US.

The process of inviting the nominated Wizard coaches to be a part of the project has gotten underway. As of this writing, 19 have already agreed to be interviewed. That includes some of the most noteworthy names in the game, including 11 AVCA Hall of Famers. It’ll be a couple weeks before we can start lining up the interviews (my partner, Mark Lebedew, is in the middle of the German championship finals series). The excitement is building, though. The response to the project has been really positive!

Definitely make sure to stay up-to-date. Things are likely to start moving very quickly in the weeks ahead.

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